Cumberland council to mull services nix to Windham

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council will decide next month whether to rescind the primary response services it has provided Windham for 32 years.

The panel on Monday unanimously approved setting a public hearing for Oct. 12 on the matter. Should it cancel primary police, fire, and emergency medical services to the neighboring community, Cumberland would still assist Windham with mutual aid calls if personnel are able to.

Cumberland has been the first responder to Windham homes around Forest Lake, which straddles both towns. Since Windham’s nearest rescue station is more than 7 miles away from the area Cumberland services – and Cumberland’s western station is about half a mile away – Cumberland has served as the primary responder for that part of town, Town Manager Bill Shane said Sept. 24.

“Where the stations are located geographically, we try to get the best coverage,” he explained. “This issue arose out of more development on roads that have been substandard to begin with.”

In emails to Windham Town Manager Tony Plante dating back as far as March 2012, Shane had called for improvements to the private roads around the lake, since conditions had worsened to a point where he was concerned about damage to Cumberland vehicles responding to calls. Road grading, pothole repair, installing areas to turn around on dead-end roads and brush cutting were among remedies he requested.

A November 2013 email mentioned a Cumberland truck being damaged on James Way in Windham after avoiding an oncoming truck and moving too far onto a soft road shoulder. Plante responded that town officials would talk with property owners on the private roads in question in an attempt to address the matter.

“We will be writing a letter to residents soon seeking their cooperation in improving winter maintenance for the short term and adding appropriate turn-arounds before next winter in order to preserve our current arrangement,” Plante wrote Shane in November 2013.

Windham has paid Cumberland $3,900 annually for its services, a figure that has remained the same since Shane started as manager in 2003, he said.

“The minimal fee we collect for this service pales in comparison to the potential damage that exists to our Fire, EMS and Police vehicles,” Shane wrote Plante in October 2013. “This has nothing to do with money, and entirely to do with protecting Cumberland personnel and equipment from unnecessary damage or injury because of road conditions that worsen as additional homes are built each year in this growing neighborhood.”

There are currently 142 homes on private roads on Windham’s part of Forest Lake, with 850 acres of undeveloped land around them in Cumberland’s service area, according to a map supplied by Shane.

He expressed hope that Windham would address those issues, and that the two towns could revisit and update the agreement next year.

Town officials from both towns have met recently on the issue, and Windham is aware of Cumberland’s intended direction, Shane said. He acknowledged that Windham is in “a tough spot,” and has issued a moratorium on development in that area.

Cumberland fire and EMS responds to Windham about 12 times annually, and about three times that number with police coverage, Shane said.

“We understand Cumberland’s concerns; they have a responsibility to look out for their community’s interests first,” Plante said in an email Sept. 27. “Meanwhile, we are working with residents, property owners, and road associations to address those concerns. We are hopeful that the issues Cumberland has raised will be addressed, and that the towns will be able to reach an updated understanding with regard to emergency first response in this area.

“Addressing the issues requires the efforts of the residents and property owners in the area, especially with respect to physical improvements, but Windham is prepared to extend winter maintenance to the remainder of the roads around Forest Lake and to work with Cumberland on a new agreement,” he added, noting that Windham’s council would act on that extension at its Oct. 13 meeting at Town Hall at 7 p.m.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

The Cumberland Town Council will decide Oct. 12 whether to rescind the primary response services it has provided Windham for 32 years. Shown here is the part of Windham for which Cumberland provides primary police, fire and emergency medical services.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.